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79: The Science of Stuck & How to Move Forward in Your Fundraising with Britt Frank

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“When we know how our brains work, we can feel like we’re in the driver’s seat of our life instead of locked in the trunk of the car, driving 95 miles down the highway.”

– Britt Frank
Episode #79

Overview

In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…

We’ve all been there: Ghosted by a donor and wondering why, why, why? My guest on this episode of What the Fundraising is showing us how to redirect our minds, dismantling the reflexive responses that play in our heads and inhabit our bodies. Britt Frank, a somatic psychotherapist, trauma expert, and author of “The Science of Stuck: Breaking Through Inertia to Find Your Path Forward,” walks us through the many ways in which our reactions (and overreactions) are embedded within our bodies. Because so many of us are detached from our own sensations, we revert automatically to our brains in search of solutions. And that’s all too often pinging around inside our heads? Lots of noisy self-doubts, recrimination, and other negative thoughts that do not serve. As Britt explains, however, we can befriend even the most toxic of emotions and in so doing diffuse them. “When we know how our brains work, we can feel like we’re in the driver’s seat of our life,” she says, “instead of locked in the trunk of the car, driving 95 miles down the highway.” You’ll love hearing how this multi-modality therapist and thinker came to her work, why ultimatums are less effective than healthy boundaries, and what modest actions you can take to interrupt when your body has taken over the driver’s seat.

Support for this show is brought to you by Bloomerang. Our friends at Bloomerang really understand fundraisers, which is how they make donor management software that nonprofits like to use. To learn more about them, head on over to bloomerang.com/mallory.

If you’re looking to raise more from the right funders, then you’ll want to check out my Power Partners Formula, a step-by-step approach to identifying the optimal partners for your organization. This free masterclass offers a great starting point!

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Support for this show is brought to you by Bloomerang. Our friends at Bloomerang really understand fundraisers, which is how they make donor management software that nonprofits like to use. To learn more about them, head on over to bloomerang.com/mallory.

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I teach nonprofit fundraisers to bring in more gifts from the RIGHT donors… so they can stop hounding people for money. Fundraising doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.

MALLORY ERICKSON

episode transcript

Mallory Erickson  02:03

Welcome, everyone, I am so excited to be here today with Britt Frank. Britt, welcome to What The Fundraising.

Britt Frank  02:10

Hi, I’m so excited to be here.

Mallory Erickson  02:13

Can we just start with you telling everyone a little bit about your work? And what brings you to our conversation today?

Britt Frank  02:19

Sure, I always tell people, I have my shiny resume and my sorted resume. So on the shiny resume, I’m a trauma clinician, I’m a psychotherapist. My first book, The Science Of Stuck just came out, which goes into the neuroscience of motivation, procrastination, all of the things that we think make us crazy, are generally our brains doing what our brains are designed to do. And when we know how our brains work, we can feel like we’re in the driver’s seat of our life, instead of locked in the trunk of the car driving 95 miles down the highway. On my sorted resumes, I came to this work from being a hot mess of a human with addictions and disorders and depression and really bad relationships and very poor life choices. And when I found my way to healing, I pivoted out of the advertising world into the therapy world, which is not that far of a jump, actually. I’m so happy to be able to talk to people about here’s why the things that you want to do aren’t happening, here’s why the things that you are doing actually makes sense in context. And there’s no such thing as crazy. 

Mallory Erickson  03:22

I really appreciate you sharing that about your own story. And it’s very similar to mine in a lot of ways. I mean, I hit a real personal burnout, a real professional burnout, was dealing with chronic pain, blew up my entire life with a long term relationship. I was like, Okay, some big things need to change and shift inside my life. And then once I was able to figure out those tools for myself or those frameworks for myself, I was like, Oh, my gosh, why is everybody not talking about this? And really changed my work. So thanks for sharing that with me. 

Britt Frank  03:56

Absolutely. 

Mallory Erickson  03:57

I have loved following you on Instagram in particular, and learning about The Science Of Stuck and how you help people become unstuck. And you talk a lot about trauma, of course. And I feel like on the show, we have had a number of people come on and talk about trauma, but we haven’t really taken a step back and define trauma and sort of explained the different ways that we can become traumatized. So will you walk us through that?

Britt Frank  04:22

Yes, gladly. And the reason I did not call the book, The Science Of Trauma because that word is so misunderstood. And a lot of people think that trauma means something horrible happened, I had a bad childhood or I was in an abusive relationship or I was in an oppressive environment or whatever. Those things, obviously are all inherently traumatic. But trauma is not defined by how bad an event is. Trauma, and this is Dr. Peter Levine who pioneered Somatic Experiencing this is his work and his definition, not mine. He’s the neuroscientists that figured all this out. Trauma is like the brain’s digestion process. So just like anything that’s too much or too fast for our body to metabolize is going to cause physical symptoms. When our brain can’t metabolize an experience, for whatever reason, and it doesn’t have to be a super bad one. It could be anything. It could be a fender bender, we have a global pandemic situation and geopolitical unrest, and the world is burning down. But it could also be that for whatever reason, someone cutting you off on the highway, just, your brain wasn’t able to process that. And so now for whatever reason you are sweating and panicking and shaking. And when people say, why is my brain doing this? I don’t know. And fortunately, we don’t need to know the why. Knowing why you have indigestion can be helpful for informing your food choices later on. But in the moment, while you’re puking, you don’t need to know what you ate or why we just need to make you feel better, and give you a plan and give you tools and maybe like a cold compress for your head and some ginger and so trauma is brain indigestion. Anything that’s too much too fast or too soon, can create symptoms.

Mallory Erickson  06:07

I really appreciate that. Because I agree we think about trauma as only these really big moments, or I hear people oftentimes downplay or basically gaslight themselves and their emotions and their experiences, because they don’t think it was big enough or bad enough compared to how we typically hear trauma talked about. Can you talk a little bit about the implications of that. 

So if we have this miss indigestion of our brain, and then we override sort of our acknowledgment of that experience, we kind of gaslight through our own emotions, what are the implications of that?

Britt Frank  06:49

I love the way you frame that question. I want to speak really quick to the comparison versus perspective issue. So when people go into the minimizing self-gaslighting, it wasn’t that bad. That completely ignores the reality of pain but perspective is useful. Perspective on okay, all things considered, I am very fortunate that I have the privilege that I do to have the resources that I have and I have my pain. Perspective allows for the multiple realities of life. I have it pretty good, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And how I need to deal with this. Comparison is they have it worse, therefore, I don’t have a right to my pain. And the comparison game, like there’s no end to the rabbit hole that was down. And again, I’ll share that I was in a domestically violent relationship. But I justify to myself, well, it’s not that bad because I was never in the hospital overnight, so therefore it doesn’t count. With comparison, there’s no limit to the self- gaslighting we can do. And to answer your question, when we gaslight ourselves out of our reality, we end up creating more of the thing that we’re trying to get out of, because if we don’t acknowledge our pain, how are we going to heal from it. If you don’t acknowledge that your leg is broken, and you keep trying to walk on it, you can say all the positive affirmations you want but that leg is going to continue to become more and more problematic. And then we’re going to have a real crisis on our hands. Have perspective on the things that are working, have perspective on how good you have it, and you have a right to your pain. And the failure to acknowledge our pain will create some sort of mess somewhere. It might be physical, it might be emotional, psychological, it might be relational. It doesn’t matter. It’s you have a right to your pain, no matter how seemingly small. And the other thing I’ll say is what we think is small, and what our brain’s survival functions think is small aren’t always in sync. Small stuff is big stuff to a brain that feels unsafe for whatever reason.

Mallory Erickson  08:44

Can you say a little bit more about that? 

Britt Frank  08:47

Yeah. So I heard my husband who’s in the business world, you know, I work alone, I’m in private practice, I write things. I’m in my little office. He’s in the business world. 

And so when he has meetings, he’s not mean or aggressive, but he’s very authoritative. And there was one day I came home and I heard him talking. And all of a sudden, I am having a meltdown. I’m shaking, I’m crying. I’m panicking. I could have said to myself, oh my God, Britt, get it together. What’s wrong with you? Like, this is so stupid, like nothing even happened. It’s not like he yelled at you. It’s not like he hit you, like, literally, you walked by, and you overheard him on the phone. And if I had done that to myself, I would very quickly have more anxiety, I would have more stress hormones, or my system would just completely shut down and I would go numb. And I would be binge watching Bridgerton until four in the morning. But even though that seems like a little thing in the moment in my brain, it was a big thing. I’m not blowing it up and going, oh my gosh, no, everyone now you need to get off your call and stop your meeting and make it about me. Trauma dumping isn’t helpful. But a self-validation moment is almost always a faster way out of the thing and trying to pretend it didn’t exist.

Mallory Erickson  09:51

Wow. Okay, this might be a big jump that my brain is making here. But something about what you’re talking about right now reminds me of imposter syndrome. How when we don’t acknowledge what’s happening, that we’re having imposter syndrome, there’s no way to actually cure impostor syndrome unless we recognize what’s actually happening in that moment. And in my opinion, if we validate the feeling of being scared, but if we’re like, you shouldn’t feel this way. Why do you always feel like an imposter  blah blah blah. Then it just gets totally out of control. And I said to someone recently, I said, I don’t have less self-doubt than other people. But I spiral around self-doubt less than other people. Because when I have self-doubt, I just say, oh, yeah, that makes sense you’re doubting yourself, you’re about to do something pretty scary. And I feel like where we get stuck in the resistance to accepting how we feel. Can you talk to me about that?

Britt Frank  10:47

I could not love what you said more. Because it’s counterintuitive to validate the not good enough stories and the inadequate stories and the imposter stories. But it’s in the validation that we find the relief. One of the best little hacks that I’ve learned for impostor syndrome, or really any negative critical thought is to meet that thought with the phrase. Yeah, that’s probably a little bit true. Like, you don’t know what you’re doing. Yeah, that’s probably a little bit true. You have nothing of value to share with the world, that’s probably a little bit true. They’re gonna realise that you stink, and they’re never gonna want whatever. Yeah, that’s probably a little bit true, too. It’s almost like you’re micro dosing unpleasant truth, if you can, like, yeah, there’s a little part of truth in that it’s less scary. We get to defuse defending the monster by validating yeah, you feel that way it makes, your way is totally perfect to, make sense that you feel that way, is a really, really useful thing. Making Friends with it and going yeah, there’s probably some truth to that is another way, not better, just a different path. But it makes sense whether you’re saying that to yourself or to someone you care about, doesn’t mean you agree with it, doesn’t mean this is now my truth. It means it makes sense that you feel that way. So it makes sense, will very quickly what we call down regulate your brain. So if your brain is on fire, the phrase it makes sense is like taking a nice little bucket of water and putting it out.

Mallory Erickson  12:08

Whoo. Okay, I love what you said at the end there around the difference between acknowledgement and validation and truth. Because I think that’s where people even in relationship with other people, someone shared something with them about how they felt about something. And instead of acknowledging and validating how they feel like it makes sense, from your perspective, that you would feel that way. Or it makes sense that you would feel that way. We go right into defense, because that wasn’t our intention to make you feel that way. Because we feel like if we acknowledge and validate, we are agreeing, or we’re saying it’s the truth, how can people decouple those a little bit more?

Britt Frank  12:45

And it makes sense, keeps you out of defense, as you’re saying that I’m like, that’s a fun pithy, little Instagrammable thing we should write later. But reminding yourself that validating, has very, very real and immediate neurological results. Because if you go into defense, now you’ve got two people whose brains are both on fire and you can’t get your message across. We’re talking in the business world, if you have to have an uncomfortable conversation with a customer or a co-worker, whoever, you need to make sure that both of your brains are available to the message that you’re sending. Otherwise, it’s a complete waste of time. And then comes the spin and more of the thing. Again, remind yourself validating does not mean agreement, validating means it’s just witnessing. I see, it makes sense that you would feel that way. I don’t agree with anything that you’re saying. I think you’re completely out to lunch but it makes sense that you would feel that way. You can be snarky and be like, Wow, I get how you could come to that conclusion, that’s not going to help. So just default to it makes sense. This makes sense. 

And then when you have two open brains that are not firing the alarm system off simultaneously, we can get to goals, we can get to outcomes, and we can get to solutions.

Mallory Erickson  13:59

I love that. And I’m curious, how do positive affirmations fit into all of this. Where’s the line between positive affirmations, gaslighting how we feel and then actually being helpful? 

Britt Frank  14:16

I’m not anti-affirmations. So I like to have positive affirmations, person and that works for you, awesome. For a lot of people, myself included affirmations feel very gaslighting. So I actually encourage in my work people to stay out of positive thinking, not just out of negative thinking what we want is not positive thinking what we want is realistic thinking. So if you’re affirming I am the most amazing person in the world at what I do. Like no you’re not. But if you can affirm, you know what I’ve had success in the past and likely I’ll be okay in the future. That’s not a positive affirmation that’s taking the data and making a reasonable conclusion. So I have exercises I do with people where it’s like, what’s the positive thinking that’s not helpful, what’s the negative thinking that’s not helpful. But what’s a realistic thought that you can write down? Generally people seem to respond well to me, is a lot better than I am so lovable and people like me, hhmm, be realistic.

Mallory Erickson  15:20

There’s this piece around that I talk a lot about how to sort of get out of binary thinking and judgement. And when I’m hearing, there’s a little bit of that when we’re like, this is positive, this is negative, we’re in that sort of judgmental binary space, as opposed to being in the grey, which is the realistic element of it.

Britt Frank  15:38

Which is messy, and people don’t like the grey and I get that because even negative thinking at least puts you in an absolute where it’s like, if I am just terrible, that’s what it is. And I’m comfortable, because then you can clearly see the parameters of I am terrible. But if you’re in the grey, it’s very messy. And one thing that is very helpful as an adult is to learn to tolerate the fuzziness of the middle. Another exercise I have people do is called an also true list. So whatever the thought your thinking is, what’s also true. Like, oh, my gosh, I totally messed up that meeting. Also true. I’m really good at my job. Oh, my gosh, blahdy blah, also true. And that will help but it’s a real practice to unlearn the binary thinking and get to the grey. Even when we’re talking about mental health. It’s not like there’s two categories of people, the mentally well, and the mentally ill. You can be both in the same breath on Sundays. And so we want to really hold the tension of the opposites and swim in the uncertainty.

Mallory Erickson  16:38

Okay, so you said my favorite word, or my least favorite word, comfort, I’ll speak for myself. When I started fundraising, I had this perception that good fundraisers felt comfortable. And that because I felt uncomfortable, I must be a bad fundraiser. And I think this is true across many professions. But I think fundraising in particular, is a very vulnerable thing. Number one, you’re talking about money, right? very vulnerable, then you’re talking about money with what many people feel like is not like a product trade for money, right, but an idea and a feeling and potential and a story. And so it feels in many ways, like your heart is on display a little bit right? This thing you love that you deeply care about, it’s soul tied to your core identity, you are asking someone else, if it’s worthy enough to be invested in?

Britt Frank  17:36

Yes, and you know, that’s why when I found out about your work, I was so excited to talk to you because fundraising is like the little kid handing the painting to mom and going do you like what I made? There are so many unconscious dynamics happening when an adult is engaged in this world, with family of origin dynamics, attachment dynamics, money, stories, good enough stories, like anyone who’s really comfortable in the fundraising space probably had a really, really healthy, securely attached family. And that’s an outlier phenomenon. That is not the norm. So if you are listening to this, and you feel like I had like nails on chalkboard, like, yes, that is the feeling. I think I’ve met maybe two people who were securely attached in childhood, like total.

Mallory Erickson  18:18

And I don’t know if I’ve ever met a fundraiser who, when behind closed doors would say they’re always comfortable fundraising, and you just named a number of the layers of contextual issues that are activated in fundraising. How would you recommend fundraisers start to think about navigating the discomfort they feel or shifting their perspective to be able to show up in the most aligned way possible with their work?

Britt Frank  18:45

That’s such a great question. I’m like the list can keep going. We can talk about gender disparities and social inequality and racism. And I mean, the list goes on and on and on, and on and on. If you’re starting this journey, again, the phrase, my discomfort make sense is a great starting place. Because as soon as you say, this is stupid, I shouldn’t feel this way there’s nothing left to do except feel crappy. And so if you can start with, okay, this makes sense. And then remind yourself, you don’t need to be in therapy to do this. But remind yourself that there are multi layers to this discomfort cake. And if you can start naming the ones that are relevant for you, even if you’re not really sure, again, we outlined all of the main categories, just assume you probably fall onto one of those. And there’s a lot of healing power in naming the things. Dan Siegel, who has a brilliant body of work, he says Name it to tame it. It’s not that naming it magic’s the discomfort away but naming it does, again, put a container around it. So now that we can see what the problem is we can ask ourselves, What are my choices for making this thing a little bit more manageable? What are my choices for making the unknown, more knowable? What are my choices for making this really weird power differential less overwhelming. What are my choices is a much better place to go than why do I feel like this?

Mallory Erickson  20:06

Can we talk about ghosting specifically, because ghosting is obviously something that fundraisers deal with. And I’m curious what is happening when we get ghosted? And how do we navigate that space?

Britt Frank  20:20

And it’s true with fundraising, it’s true with dating. The ghosting phenomenon doesn’t feel good no matter what context it’s happening in. So again, it makes sense that you feel like crap if someone ghosts you. It makes sense that your brain is going what did I do? What did I say? I’m not good enough. Oh, my God, why am I even doing this? Who do I think? All of that it makes sense that you’re thinking that. Because ghosting does feels icky. It really does. And you’re never gonna get an answer. There’s no answer to why did they ghost me, that’s gonna make you feel better. Letting go of the need to understand the why, again, self-reflection, and hey, did I say something that probably I shouldn’t, like, self-reflection is good. But we all know the line where self-reflection turns into rumination and that’s the stuff we want to stay out of. After some good healthy, run it by the colleague, run it by your friend, do some self-checking, after you’ve cleared that, then assume that their ghosting has a lot of story attached to it, none of which has anything to do with you.

Mallory Erickson  21:17

Yeah, I really appreciate that. And thinking about fundraisers, in addition to all the layers, the vulnerabilities that come up fundraising, the other piece of it is that they’re dealing with these things constantly. I just talked to someone the other day who has a for-profit business, and he’s getting some venture impact capital, but he’s not typically fundraising. And he was talking about the pain he was feeling from this funder saying no, and the weeks he was spending, dealing with his feelings on this. And this is actually somebody who is very well versed in the tools that we’re talking about today, and was using all of his own stuff, but was struggling. And what I was thinking and then he said it was I’m thinking about the fact that your people do this multiple times a day, they go through what I went through multiple times a day. So how do they create some space, some buffers, some actual self-care, not what we’re marketed to as self-care, to heal and take care of themselves in that environment.

Britt Frank  22:17

And I think the more intense your work environment, the more boundaries are needed to be able to manage it. And in the fundraising space, where like you said, it’s a constant rejection, abandonment. We love you, we hate you. Yes, no, it’s this yay, dopamine when it works, and abject flights out when it doesn’t. And so because it’s such a high multi levels, complex mess to navigate, that means that you’re going to need some real clear differentiation lines between when you’re working and when you’re not working, especially since a lot of people work from home now. And so things like changing your clothes, making sure that you have a very clear place where you do your work, if possible every day. And when you are done, you have something that you do to tell your brain, this is done now we’re shifting. When people say they need work life balance, what they actually mean is we need work life boundaries. And if you’re in this very high octane environment, it’ll be even more important, like you said, not the self-care piece, let’s just start with your brain does not know that you’re done with work and that you’re with your family, if you don’t programme it, and train it and teach it to differentiate. Even if it’s you go for a walk around the block, or you get in your car, or you play a song or you drink an orange juice, whatever the thing is, any ritual that you decide is the thing will work, pick something and really, really make this work home line very clear, that will help. It’s not going to make feeling the feelings less icky, but it will contain it. 

And we do need containment when we’re talking really, really intense feelings. So we can shift between those feeling states instead of being flooded by them. 

Mallory Erickson  23:58

Wow, I’m not gonna lie. It’s a little bit hard to hear that because I think that this system in particular, like the nonprofit industrial complex boundaries are such an issue in terms of how much people are working, the ways that their work filter into their personal lives in so many different ways. The communities sometimes they live in, where challenged I hear fundraisers in small communities, it’s like, they sometimes are nervous about going to local bars or doing certain things because they’re going to see some of their donors. And there’s just so many elements to that. So it’s really helpful to hear that and I think it pushes a structural conversation around what it looks like to create conditions for success for fundraisers to have the boundaries that they need to do that. Because you said the word boundaries and we’re talking about it, can we define boundaries a little bit more too because this is a hot topic, but I wonder how much people know what that really means and looks like.

Britt Frank  24:59

So the most simple definition of boundaries, just a line of demarcation. My skin is the boundary between my insides and the outside worlds. The doors, the boundary between this room and the room on the other side of the door. But what people often mistake boundaries for are requests. So when I hear people say they cross my boundaries, erh that’s how it  really works. If I’m saying to my boundary is I don’t want you to call me after six, that’s not a boundary, I’m asking you to do something. So if the power to do it or not do it is yours, like you can decide I want to call her at seven. You didn’t cross my boundary, it’s just you didn’t do what I asked you to do. A boundary is hey, if you call after six, I’m not answering my phone. A boundary is my set of choices in response to someone else’s choices. That gets a little dicey because then people are like, Well, that sounds like an ultimatum. Okay, well, the difference between a boundary and an ultimatum is intention. Boundary is not like I hate you, I don’t want to work for you, a boundary is if I don’t have some sort of lines around myself, I’m going to burn out. I’m not going to be able to produce I’m going to do quiet quitting or allowed quitting or whatever else it is that people are doing. And it’s really important to know the intention with boundaries is preservation. The intention with ultimatums is power and control. So when I say my boundary is I don’t take, you know, I don’t answer emails after seven, no one can cross that, that’s on me. Like if I answer an email at eight, it’s not that I’ve crossed the boundary I just didn’t hold it. But it’s also important to know that there are some work environments where boundary setting is not possible. I did a talk for a group of corporate people. And one of them was like, well, head of the business unit is like this narcissistic sociopathic and if I set a boundary, I’m gonna get fired. That’s a very toxic work environment, which means your choices are to stay and burn out or to try to leave. And that’s unfortunate, but we need to get realistic about if you can’t set boundaries of any kind in your work environment, is it that you are the problem? Or is it that the environmental stressors render it impossible for anyone with a human brain to thrive in? Some environments are just you can’t thrive in and the social work world is very much like the fundraising world in terms of structural problematic, push the people and grind them up until it’s just a turnover. A structural problem is not a mental illness, and often what we call internal and again, there’s no stigma about having mental illness, I take meds, I go to therapy, all of it. But it’s not that you’re unmotivated, it’s that your nervous system is fried, because you’ve been working 20 hour days. It’s not that you are lazy, it’s that your system is fully in shutdown, from having to deal with XY and Z. And so it’s really important not to name external stressors as internal character defects or problems.

Mallory Erickson  27:47

Wow, I really appreciate that. And I’m curious about the ultimatum piece, because I have recently been thinking about ultimatums, perhaps in the wrong way. I was like do ultimatums always have to be bad? Like let’s say you make a request, as you say, and that requests continues to not be honored. And you continue to set your own boundary around answering the phone after six, for example. But you feel like the amount of times you’ve repeated the request and it continues to happen and it’s not happening. Can you set a healthy ultimatum as sort of a warning that this is the end of my rope in terms of my willingness to do this and have you not honor this request? And I’m saying it not for power and control but to give you one more chance before I just literally ghost you.

Britt Frank  28:38

Which is why that’s not an ultimatum. If it’s, Hey, we’ve had this conversation, we’ve had this conversation if you choose not to honor my request, my only viable option to preserve my health is to leave, that’s not an ultimatum. And also made him like in the context of a relationship is, if you don’t give me what I want I’m going to leave you, that is designed to be fully in control of someone else’s agency and their choice points. When I say I can’t do this anymore, because it’s costing me my health and my relationships and everything else. That’s actually not an ultimatum. Ultimatums are about power boundaries are about preservation. So even if it feels like a harsh boundary, it’s still a boundary.

Mallory Erickson  29:20

Okay, thank you for clarifying that. Because I think there probably is a misconception also, that even my version is an ultimatum because it’s fully withdrawing engagement if that thing isn’t satisfied, but the goal is that is satisfied. And so I really appreciate that clarification.

Britt Frank  29:38

It helps people not feel so mean. Is your intention preservation or power, and if it’s power, then you feel bad because that’s not good. If the intent is preserving either the relational integrity, the business integrity or your personal integrity that will never fall, it’ll fall under a hardline boundary but that is not an ultimatum and you do not need to feel guilty for setting well intentioned boundaries, even if they feel harsh.

Mallory Erickson  30:02

Okay, I really appreciate that. I feel like we’re right on the cusp of this other question that I wanted to ask you. I remember seeing a post of yours that said something about how sometimes we try to solve somatic problems with cognitive solutions. And that’s where we run into a lot of trouble. Can you talk us through that?

Britt Frank  30:23

Yeah, and I’m a really big fan of thought work. Like I love being analytical, I would much rather be in my thoughts and in my feelings. As much as I spout this stuff, and I practice it and I do it I like to be in my head because it feels easier and more manageable and more in control than being in my body. So a somatic problem is when your nervous system is in fight, flight, or freeze, that’s the kind of situation we were talking about where I came home, and my body went into just panic mode and shut down. I am not going to logic myself out of that moment. So when I come home, and I hear my husband on the phone, and I start shaking, I can tell myself all day long, you’re fine, it’s safe, he’s your husband, he’s at work, nothing’s wrong, that’s not gonna work. Because I’m trying to solve a somatic a body based problem with a thought based solution. Sometimes you can talk yourself out of body stuff, but not usually. 

And so if you are stuck in a body situation, you need body interventions, and there are plenty and there are entire bodies of therapy that focus on body based solutions. But a lot of times people will try to logic their way out of whatever. And when that doesn’t work, as it doesn’t, then they blame themselves. What’s wrong with me. Oh, my God, logically, I know that I shouldn’t feel like this but I still feel like this. And I know logically, the fact that they ghosted me doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. But now, because XY and Z and my history, my whole body is reacting to this being ghosted thing. Well, great. Now, we need different set of tools than positive thinking or affirmations or whatever. 

Mallory Erickson  31:53

Do you ever find that people sometimes have trouble even recognizing that they’re having a somatic response?

Britt Frank  32:01

Yes, we’re not taught that we have bodies, like it’s absolutely bananas to me that you can go through your entire life and never once I was never taught this till I went to therapy for this, hey, guess what, you have a brain and your brain does things. And mental health actually isn’t in your mind. It’s in your central nervous system. And it’s like being put behind the wheel of a car and not knowing how to drive and then going God, I’m such a bad driver. It’s like no, you’re not you just don’t know how to work it. Somatic what the hell is that? What does that even mean? I was so baffled by this concept. I remember, a very skilled therapist said to me, because I was really mad about something and I was fuming. She’s like, Britt where do you feel that anger in your body? And I’m like, I don’t understand that question. What do you mean, were in your body do you feel your anger? Well, in my head, I’m mad. She’s like, No, like, do you have a tight chest? I was so frustrated. I’m like, I don’t understand this question. Because I was never taught, hey, you have this entire biological organism from the neck down. And it is constantly interacting with the environment scanning for threats, for opportunities, energy conservation. We’re not taught how to drive. And then we wonder why we’re crashing.

Mallory Erickson  33:10

I had the exact same experience. I remember therapists saying, Where do you feel that and I was like, What do you mean, feel it, it is wild and honestly, it took me many, many sessions of therapy, to start to be able to identify where different types of experiences or pain were living in my body, and then to start to notice that on my own, took a while. And so I’m wondering, for folks who are listening to this, who maybe when we say that piece around solving a somatic problem with a cognitive solution, and they’re like, Well, how do I know when I’m having a somatic problem? What’s a level one awareness they can start to bring into their experience?

Britt Frank  33:51

So I really like this as a starting point. Because if you get bogged down in the, is it a somatic problem? And if so, where is it coming from? And why do I have it? You’re gonna spin. So let’s just start with does your reaction match the situation? Again, when I came home, and I heard the phone call, my reaction was level 10. The situation was a level zero, like nothing was actually happening to me. Now, if I came home and someone started yelling at me, and I freaked out, my reaction matches the situation. There’s no such thing as an overreaction. It’s just our reactions get mismatched. If your reaction is not matching the situation to feel upset and sad if someone goes to if all of a sudden you’re hysterical, and you can’t eat and you can’t sleep and you can’t bathe yourself, and you have insomnia and you have night terrors, that’s not an overreaction. It’s just clearly this reaction is not about this situation. So assume if your reaction is mismatched to the situation, it’s a somatic problem. That’s a really quick way to start.

Mallory Erickson  34:51

And do you have any initial tips for moving through a somatic response or even how they start to explore what that might look like?

Britt Frank  35:01

Again, nothing is like, yeah, this will magically cure a somatic reaction. But there is so much power knowing that somatic reactions are a thing and you’re not crazy, because there’s no such thing as crazy. And this makes sense in context. I have seen people on the brink of like Mega panic meltdown, come down, not all the way down, but down enough just by saying, yeah, like you make sense right now, you’re not crazy. You’re not crazy because no one is, is a very powerful tool. Even if you have no somatic training, even if you don’t know how to cycle and metabolize the stimulus through your body, like doesn’t matter. Let’s just start with this is a thing. I am not crazy. And then if you want a practical, hey, what do we do? Come up with three choices. What are three, like people, places, resources, thoughts, or things, not so much thoughts because that’s not going to work. What can I do right now? Not next year, not next week Not after I buy the books and whatever. What can I do right now? Can I take a shower? Can I take a walk? Can I listen to music, and use your senses, relational, other people tend to be best. But sometimes you don’t want to be around other people. So fine, anything that you’re engaging your senses with, because this part of the brain we’re talking about, and the somatic stuff that responds to sensory stuff, not logic stuff.

Mallory Erickson  36:19

Wow, when you were talking about that part about feeling crazy, it made me think about how the times in my life where I have felt the most crazy have definitely been in romantic relationships when I’ve been gaslit. And it just sort of made me think about the fact that wow, that’s the same thing that’s probably happening when we’re gaslighting ourselves. And so I just think that’s such an important thing to recognize what that does to us, when we don’t give ourselves the acknowledgement or the space to feel our feelings.

Britt Frank  36:52

Which again, I know, we sort of veer in and out of the relational space in this conversation, which is great, because it’s the same stuff that happens. When you’re being gaslit in a romantic relationship, as we both have, even the ugliest part of the truth feels better than wondering what’s real. When you’re like, is this real? Is this not real? Am I crazy? Is this happening? Is this not happening? It’s like, Yes, this is happening and it’s awful and you’re not crazy. That will always produce relief. I don’t know why this makes sense. But this makes sense to someone. And I’m not crazy, is going to dial whatever’s happening down a lot faster than Oh, my God, what is wrong with you that you feel like just stop. Like, if only it were that simple? Like, there’s an entire industry of therapists because you can’t just stop.

Mallory Erickson  37:37

Yeah, I know, we just bully ourselves so much around the experiences that we have. And I really hope fundraisers are thinking about this both in terms of how they talk to themselves, but in that relational aspect in terms of their relationships with donors, too, and how they handle when they aren’t hearing back. Or when somebody says no, or when they get a donor who’s unhappy about something that they are able to validate their feelings. And when there are different perceptions about something and you’re getting feedback, it’s really easy, especially when there’s a power imbalance, I think, to feel like I must be the one who’s wrong. And I’m losing my mind. Like how did I not see this? And so I think it’s just such important advice. 

Britt Frank  38:19

And it’s not coddling, whenever I present this information in more of the business setting I’ve heard people say, Well, this sounds like you’re just coddling people. And everyone’s so fragile and walking around in their feelings. And it’s like, it’s not about coddling people. It’s about understanding the fundamental mechanics of our bodies and brains. So we can be more optimized in our approach to our businesses, to our relationships. And then my little sticky thing is like mental health is good for your bottom line. This isn’t about excusing, justifying or coddling. It’s about let’s be more efficient, because psychological safety produces more for a business than spinning and trying to pretend like the problem is not what it is.

Mallory Erickson  38:57

I’m really glad you said that. And it’s so funny because the reality is, is when you do these things, when you acknowledge how you feel, when you can actually move beyond it, you spend so much less time dealing with that spiral and it occupies so much less space. I hear a lot from people, like how do you do so much and I have a three year old and I do not work more than 40 hours a week. I don’t work on the weekend. I don’t work in the evenings. Honestly, I think the secret is this. I do not spend a lot of time spiraling. I accept self-doubt when it’s there. I accept my feelings when it’s there. I validate them, I move on. And it’s been 10 years of me working on this pattern and myself. So again, this is not some like quick pill I took overnight. But I think that that’s it, the capacity it’s opened up in me has just been tremendous.

Britt Frank  39:44

I love that so much. It’s true. If you were to do an inventory of how much time you spend beating yourself up. It’s just not an efficient use of your resources. Let’s reconfigure what we’re doing and how we’re speaking to ourselves because it’s how you’re going to optimize your productivity and all that other fun buzz word.  

Mallory Erickson  40:01

Whatever way you need to plug into this or whatever argument you need to make to your boss or whatever works for you, I think we just want to make these tools, this skill development accessible and available and exciting to you. So if it’s about productivity lean in, or whatever it is. Okay, there’s one thing I want to make sure we have a chance to talk about before we say goodbye, which is, can you talk to me about the difference between parasympathetic and sympathetic procrastination? 

Britt Frank  40:31

Yes. And I love talking about this because I hate the word procrastination, because it’s such a mushy, nebulous, like, what does that word mean? You’re not doing the thing you want to do that you know you could do and there’s no logical reason why you’re not doing it. Procrastination. Thank you for playing. It doesn’t mean anything. So I’m really big on let’s optimize our language. Let’s use words that describe it parasympathetic procrastination is when you’re locked in the down position, and the nervous system brings stuff that happens that’s when I’m procrastinating by laying on the couch. And I’m doom scrolling or comfort scrolling, and I’m not moving. That’s a function of your parasympathetic system, the brake pedal of the brain. Sympathetic Procrastination is a function of your sympathetic nervous system, which is the gas pedal of your brain. And that’s the kind of procrastination where you’re rushing around, where you’re doing 100 things except the one that you know, that’s when my house gets very clean, but I haven’t answered that one email that needs to get answered. So parasympathetic procrastination means your nervous system is stuck on off. Sympathetic procrastination means your system is stuck on on and they need different interventions. You need different tools and techniques than when you’re like, spinning like a little tornado. Again, name it to tame it. If it’s just I stink because I’m a procrastinator, that doesn’t help us. That doesn’t give us any information. It’s like okay, well, which direction do you get stuck on? Do you get stuck on off on on? Do you ping pong between the two? What’s your nervous system dealing when you’re quote, procrastinating so we can again get to solutions faster than just labelling something with a mushy word, that doesn’t really mean anything. 

Mallory Erickson  41:59

Okay, I might be opening up a whole can of worms with what I’m gonna say next. But I feel like on a systemic level, the sympathetic procrastination is very common in the nonprofit sector. And I don’t think it’s called procrastination, I think it’s actually linked to a lot of sometimes what we see as Martyrdom, like, I’m just doing everything I can. And I’m just doing all the things. And this was me when I started working with a coach, however, many years ago now 15 years ago, like the number one thing she first said, was like you are in a state of constant overdrive, what are you distracting yourself from? 

Right, not that point blank, I had to do some self-discovery myself, but that was at the core was like you’re in a constant state of overdrive. You’re keeping yourself distracted from something. What is it? For me underneath it was this belief that I wasn’t enough unless I was constantly checking off boxes, and producing and all these different things. And so can we talk about that state in particular? And what are some few tips for folks who might be noticing that that’s true for them too, and how they can settle their nervous system down out of that state?

Britt Frank  43:07

Well, let’s take the goal of settling the nervous system off the table. You can’t get from Code Red, sympathetic procrastination to now I’m chill and calm, just like you’re not gonna get from off to like, oh, off I go. So let’s make a realistic goal that lines up with how your brain is functioning. The goal is not to be regulated, the goal is to be honest. And again, we need to have another hour for this conversation. But you know, one thing I like to say is an unpleasant reality I don’t like the word always, but I use it in this case. An unpleasant reality is always preferable to a shiny lie. And so it’s, I’m fine, I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m just really busy. And just that’s not actually what’s true. It’s a shiny lie. And a lot of times sympathetic over functioning gets patted on the head and praised as virtuous, which is problematic. I love that question that your person asked you. What are you avoiding? I promise you, whatever the pain of your thing that you’re avoiding is, and it might be really intense pain is still preferable to what’s happening right now. And I say this as a former drug addict. As much as the reality of what I was distracting myself from was unpleasant and painful and gross and awful. It was still preferable to everything I was doing. Assuming that you’re in a safe enough environment with access to resources and your basic needs met, big disclaimer facing uncomfortable truths is always going to work out better than spinning on a shiny lie. So take a truth inventory, like a medicine, like a pill every night. What am I lying to myself about today? Don’t worry about doing anything about it. Don’t worry about regulating yourself. Let’s just start with awareness because awareness and understanding precedes action. 

Mallory Erickson  44:46

Ooh, okay. We’re going to end there. I will make sure all the information is below for folks to find your work and follow you on Instagram. Is there anything in particular you want to leave folks with today or invite them to get to know your work better?

Britt Frank  45:00

Okay, I’m really glad you said that because I want to disclaim. Insight and understanding precedes action doesn’t mean ask why questions. You don’t walk up to a car accident and ask why is everyone lying in the street, you get the ambulance, you get the people to the hospital. As much as insight and clarity and understanding can be helpful. Step one, don’t ask why. Ask what? Step two, ask what are three choices of those three, pick one, go, and that will get you from stuck to step one. And then you can build momentum and that compounds quickly. So do not start with why.

Mallory Erickson  45:31

I love that. Thank you so much. And thank you for this conversation today. I’m so grateful for you and your work and for sharing your wisdom with this community.

Britt Frank  45:40

Thank you so much. This was fun.

Mallory Erickson  45:48

Okay, are you guys going as wild about this episode as I am, this is 100% the knowledge I desperately needed as a fundraiser. And I hope it’s helpful for how you think about your life work and organizations wellness. Here’s some of the top things that I’m taking away from this conversation. Number one, when the brain is overwhelmed and can’t digest, we experienced trauma, and anything can be a trigger or activator. Number two, you have a right to your pain, no matter how quote unquote small, it’s good to keep things in perspective but minimizing your feelings does not help you in any way. 

Number three, when your brain reacts reflexively, and overreact dramatically, it’s an invitation to get curious. What past experiences are alive inside your body. Number for the next time you’ve got it icky feeling, try telling yourself, my discomfort makes sense. It diffuses the charge the opposite, telling yourself it’s stupid and you shouldn’t feel that way only makes the whole thing worse. Number five, the more intense your work environment, the more boundaries you need. I’m going to just say that again. The more intense your work environment, the more boundaries you need, especially in the fundraising space, with its constant rejection and abandonment activation. Number six, did you just have a monster of a day or maybe it’s just regular work stress? Even after you’re off the clock your brain doesn’t fully know it. 

Be intentional, interrupt thoughts take a moment to transition. Okay, there’s so many more takeaways and tips inside this episode I could have gone on and on. So head on over to www.malloryerickson.com/podcast to grab the full show notes and tons of extra resources right now. You’ll also find more information there about Britt and you can grab a copy of The Science Of Stuck. Thank you for spending this time with us today. If you enjoyed this episode, we would love it if you would give it a rating and review and share it with a friend. 

I am so grateful for all of my listeners and the good hard work you’re doing to make our world a better place. And if you miss me between episodes, stop by and say hello on Instagram, @whatthefundraising_ Have a great day and I’ll see you next week.

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